At All Times

Yesterday my daughter was involved in an incident at school. Without going into detail, she was rightfully ashamed of the part she played in it, and my whole family learned a hard lesson of how hurtful gossiping always is.

The situation surprisingly zoomed me into a headspace I haven’t occupied since I was fifteen and pregnant, and suddenly it was flashback Friday except on a Monday, and I was walking down the halls at high school with a bulging belly; hearing the whispers, pretending to ignore the sneers from people who didn’t even know me. Everyone seemed to have one inaccurate version or another of my story. Except for one true friend, I felt alone. I was never outright bullied, but I felt judged, scared and ashamed everyday for the next three years–because of what some people considered “harmless” gossip.

I know my daughter, and I know that the thought of being the person that brings pain upon anyone else is greatly upsetting to her–as it should be–and yet here we are. A word of wisdom to young girls: the cattiness never ends. I know grown women who find so much satisfaction in talking about other people’s problems. The truth is that there is no such thing as harmless gossip. What might start out as meaningless conversation about something-not-yer-business can quickly become a passionate discussion (usually filled with non-facts) which can then escalate into bullying in the blink of an eye. And yes–grownup bullies exist.

It’s ridiculous.

I could quote verses in the Bible that say “don’t be a jerk” or “God is displeased with petty gossip” or “y’all all better stop with talking about people behind they backs”, but instead,

Because a true friend does love at all times.

Loving someone does not involve whispering about them as they walk down the hallway, nor does it intentionally set out to make them feel horrible about themselves for any reason.

“But I’m not friends with that girl so who cares?” I’m not shocked to report that most people don’t consider gossip to be a big deal whatsoever especially when it’s about people they don’t care about. But that’s like saying “Who cares if I fire this gun as long as the bullet isn’t hitting someone I know?”

Something I’ve learned about gossip from my own experiences (from being gossiped about and from gossiping about others–shame on me) is that to participate in it, you actively devalue and dehumanize the person you’re talking about. Their feelings? Don’t matter. Their side of the story? Doesn’t matter. After a time, the actual truth doesn’t even matter. All of this is wrong considering that each of us was literally made by God in God’s image.

That 15-year-old pregnant girl who you just called a stupid whore who’s desperate to keep her boyfriend? Is a straight-A student who had sex one time with the boyfriend who she’s in a committed relationship with, and she’s holding back tears every single day on the back of the bus, and crying into her pillow after school because her own father can’t even look her in the eye anymore. And words hurt. And people are mean. And a smile from one kind person can make her terrible day just a little better.

Gossiping is always personal.

I’m embarrassed to admit how often I find myself in the middle of drama I shouldn’t be remotely involved in. It happens less and less with age and maturity, but I’m not dead yet so I will always understand the struggle.

It’s our duty to protect those who are smaller and weaker than us. It is our job to stand up for those who can’t defend themselves. It is not okay to purposefully to hurt someone, physically or emotionally, or any other -ally.

You will never regret being kind, but cruelty damages your own heart as well as the hearts around you.

Girls, we belong to each other. Everyone makes mistakes and everyone messes up. Sometimes we do or say the wrong thing. Nobody is perfect. Show grace. Take care of each other. Be the friend that loves.

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The Pearl-Clutching Confessions of a Baptist Catholic

I’m a godmother. And this is legitness:

I mean.

Caleb has indeed been walking around demanding we kiss his ring but no one really respects him without a twirly chair and a cat, so we are left without all the god-parenting bells and whistles to contemplate the actual spiritual guiding of a small child’s soul.

Already I am concerned on a number of levels for this kid because his parents chose us, of all people.

I know that just by saying that I’m a godparent to my Catholic nephew, I’m opening up a scandalous can of blasphemin’ worms among certain church folk. But here’s a fun thing that’s guaranteed to get me expelled from the fellowship hall forever: I don’t actually believe anything different about Jesus now than I did when I was 16 years old and eyeballs-deep in Roman Catholicism.

I loved Him then and I love Him today; I know He died for me and that apart from Him I am lost, no matter my good works and intentions. I do not know another true believer of any denomination that doesn’t grasp these basic concepts, though I do know plenty of posers in churches of all kinds.

This needs to be said: not all Christians are of the Oklahomus white evangelicalus variety.

Now, personally, I have been blessed to experience God’s undeniable power and presence within a Baptist community. For me, this environment has been spiritually conducive to the strengthening of my faith. I’ve learned so much more about the Bible, and the history of The Church, and the miracles of Jesus (both past and present), in the past ten years than I did in the first quarter of my life; I’ve been intentionally and lovingly discipled by some of the most faithful people I’ve ever had the blessing to know. I’ve been so, so grateful for the teaching and the mentorship I’ve received within the walls of my church. And I’m even more grateful for the way God continues to reveal Himself through the relationships that have developed there.

Can I admit, though, that I have attended, at times, both Catholic masses and Baptist services with the wrong heart? There have been so many Sundays where I have walked in the door of a church and walked out unchanged, or worse–hardened.

Because it is not Southern Baptist theology that saves me, any more than Catholicism did not. It isn’t any pastor or priest or Sunday school teacher or small groups’ leader that determines whether or not I am in right-standing with God; it is Jesus and Jesus alone that saves me, day in and day out, in this world and in the next.

Jesus, only Jesus.

At the end of the day, when all the books have been read and the verses have been memorized, the sacraments have been received and the people have prayed and the casseroles done been ate…I hope I am filled with a love for Jesus rather than a love for the comfort of what I’m used to.

I hope I am filled with an excitement for Jesus Himself rather than chasing a spiritual high through the next novel idea or latest book.

I hope I help people in my community to discover a love for Him and for His church (you know, the big fat bride of Christ that spans the globe, faithfully worshiping in their own unique but God-honoring, Christ-exalting way.)

I hope that I seek to see people as God sees them–I hope my heart breaks over their pain and leaps with their joy.

I hope I can communicate even a small fraction of how much He loves them.

I hope my sweet nephew grows up in the sort of faith-nurturing environment I’ve been able to experience. I hope we are both forever learning lessons of love. I hope God inspires him and guides him and builds him, and I hope I can be a worthy part of his journey.

Happy…Baptism(?) Little Easton. Here’s to the beginning of a life marked with the love of Christ. May God bless you and keep you.


The good fight

Here’s a random observation: 85% of the people in my social circle are in, or retired from, the teaching profession.

And you guys? They are ever so righteously pissed off.

Real talk: I don’t know exactly what their average school year is like but I imagine that if I spent a fraction of one day walking in their shoes, that massive coronary I planned on having in my seventies would hit me swiftly and violently within the first 10 minutes of me standing in a classroom with 30 five-year-olds, and my stressed-out candyass wouldn’t have made it to lunchtime much less 15 years down the road into the future on the same sorry paycheck.

I have so many friends who I love and respect that are marching in Oklahoma City today. I have friends who I love and respect that are teaching in a classroom today. The very fact that any of them had to make a choice as to which place they were most needed speaks volumes about the pitiful state of our public education system in Oklahoma.

None of them draw great joy from protesting at the capitol. None of them want to be there. And here’s another fun fact about a lot of my teaching friends: they most certainly could be in other places besides our Oklahoma classrooms, whether they accept teaching positions out of state, or they search for employment in other professions–but they’re still here doing what they do because it’s never been about the paycheck for them.

Unfortunately, though, so many teachers are, in fact, leaving our schools, that we can’t replace them fast enough. I’m sickened, as a citizen and as a parent. We have done a huge disservice to those that we entrust our little ones to 7 hours a day, 5 days a week, 9 months out of the year. (Geez that’s a crap ton of time.) We’ve done a huge disservice to our children. Did we vote for the wrong people? Vote for the wrong bill? Take our teachers for granted and put our schools’ problems on the back burner while we tended to what we thought were more pressing issues? I don’t know where it all went wrong, but the ball was set on fire and dropped into an abyss.

And so, they fight.

While I fully support my friends, I have to acknowledge the growing number of parents who are increasingly frustrated with the whole situation. Just hit up any grocery store at noon on a weekday and you’ll see them–tired, worried expressions, 3 rambunctious children in tow, loading up on juice boxes and peanut butter–and hear them: “My grocery bill is through the roof with these kids home all day. I should be at work right now. I wonder how long this is gonna last.” I can’t pretend like the walk out is only a minor inconvenience for the working class parent.

I’m also paying close attention to which Oklahoma legislators have the patience and wisdom required for continued public servanthood–and which ones most epically do not. It’s honestly shocking to see how disrespectful, dismissive, dishonest, and childish some of these elected officials truly are–and that’s all I’ll say about that. (But maybe let’s not vote straight Republican Party anymore, mkay Oklahoma?)

As far as I can tell, the teachers at the capitol aren’t budging, so unless the legislators there quickly recognize the importance of sustainable funding for public education, there will be some rowdy momma bears camping out in Oklahoma City who will not be protesting as peaceably as the teachers have been.

I do not live in a community full of kids whose parents can afford to feed them three square meals a day, much less take off work for the walk-out; while many area schools are closed indefinitely, our small school is still in session. These teachers are equally as dedicated to our children as the ones marching in front of the capitol building. They receive no recognition or applause, though they deserve it just as much. They are pure class; my family is forever grateful for what they have done and what they continue to do.

When my son was behind in reading, his first grade teacher invited him to take part in an after-school reading program to get extra help until he was back up to speed, at zero cost to us. I was so grateful I could still cry. My daughter has never not wanted to go to school since we moved to this district in 2014. My oldest graduated from an Oklahoma country high school as a valedictorian with crazy high ACT scores, despite all the cuts to education that were made during her years as a student in this state–I’m giving teachers a good chunk of the credit on that one. My children have been well-taught and well taken care of inside those classrooms walls, but it goes so far beyond that.

They are loved and encouraged, strengthened and inspired. As a parent, I cannot put a price tag on that. And I cannot ask for anything more.

So friends, keep fighting the good fight. It’s not over yet but please, please: see this thing through. Don’t back down. Don’t give up. The future of Oklahoma needs it. We need you.


Rest

Western Christianity has 99 problems and unforgiveness is about 75 of them.

Guys guys guys. Wanna be so radical and counter-cultural? Drop the stone-cold act and forgive some folk. Stop holding onto old hurts. Stop digging in those heels. Unclench your teeth. Enough with the grudge matches.

Own up to the parts you may have played in any falling-outs you’ve had with friends and family over the years. Admit your failures. Apologize for your wrong doings.

Life is too freakin’ short to be crappy to someone made in God’s image. Let your heart rest from exhausting bitterness.

It took me a year of therapy and some serious spiritual warfare to get these things from my head to my heart, and it’s still a struggle, though I kept careful notes.

And there are days when I put that little pot of anger on a back burner and then switch it to the front and watch it boil over before I realize it was a waste of time and now I have a big stupid mess to clean up.

But if Jesus Himself died to teach us how to truly forgive, then forgiveness is definitely one of the more non-optional things to strive for as a Christian.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean instant trust and restored relationship. But it does mean you are releasing someone from the pain you feel they deserve. And that can be a hard pill to swallow.

But it’s the way of the cross. You can listen to all the Lecrae in the world. You can attend every IF table. You can quote Beth Moore and wear “Coffee and Jesus” t-shirts, you can decorate your bible and highlight verses until your head pops off.

But without love, it’s all for nothing.

Don’t be a gong.

Forgive.


Salty and Lit

Hey, if you’re looking for a church to visit for Easter this Sunday, don’t come to mine.

Don’t come.

Don’t JUST come, I should say.

If you’re looking for somewhere to go so you can feel spiritual for 90 minutes, stay home. If you just want to get your semi-annual Jesus on, please, by all means, skip it. If you don’t come regularly to church to worship with other believers during the year, why come on Easter? It’s like posting “Happy Birthday, girlfriend!” on the Facebook wall of the person you never ever talk to, except in this case, Easter is Jesus’s death day or, more accurately, His Resurrection day, so it’s even more important.

You say “But the hypocrites! THE HYPOCRITES!” To which I say I feel personally attacked, because what do you think I am? Someone who is never two-faced and catty? I’m working on it, okay?

I used to struggle with this: wake up early and Jesus, or jammies and chocolate? Jesus, chocolate? Jesus, chocolate? Thankfully this issue has been resolved by Russel Stover and I can purchase a chocolate cross, so now I be reppin’ Christ while I stuff my face. Life as a modern American Christian has never been sweeter.

But I digress.

Don’t just come to church. Don’t come once and never come back. Don’t come and forget.

Come and remember. Come and stay. Come and believe. Have hope. Serve. Encourage. Be salt and be light, everyday.

If you do come to my church, sit by me. Sing with me. Pray with me. Hold my hand if you want. Come to my house afterward. I will cook you food. You can eat my chocolate cross. JK, I already ate it.

I will tell you about my God.

I will tell you how much more I love Him with every passing day.

I will tell you how much I struggle to honor Him with a life marked by His heart of uncompromising peace, radical forgiveness, and unconditional love.

I will tell you that my God made you beautiful. He made me beautiful, too, even when I am ugly. And I am ugly like, a lot.

But He made me in His image from the dust of this earth. He made every brilliant and beautiful thing on this planet.

I will tell you about the God I love who IS the God Who Loves.

This God could’ve let the entire world rot in its wickedness. He could’ve left us to our selfish pursuits, our power struggles, and our endless cycles of violence and war. He could’ve left me to trudge through life in my brokenness.

But God…

Revealed Himself as Love, and showed us another way, a better way; Jesus–the word made flesh, God in human form.

I can’t fathom it. I can’t fully understand it or articulate it but the fact remains that God is God and God is Jesus and Jesus is Love so God is Love.

Easter is Love. Easter is peace. Easter is Hope.

I mean yeah sure there’s some ancient pagan holiday that celebrates with eggs and that’s awesome because, eggs.

But I associate some seriously good news with the Christian Easter. Jesus y’all!!! He was the original gangster, hated by the establishment, plotted against by the powers that be; He was accused and mocked and beaten and tortured and murdered, and how did he return serve? By turning the other cheek. By refusing to bow to Satan’s way of violence and hatred, He stuck it to the man in the biggest and best way ever.

He lived a model life of peace and forgiveness, and He wasn’t about to go out like a sucker, kicking and screaming and raining down all kinds of wrath and vengeance. We howled for His violent and humiliating death, and with a rebel yell Jesus took up a cross and said “this is the way”.

He didn’t conquer His enemies with a “GOD HATES (fill in the blank)” sign. He didn’t conquer His enemies with the 2nd amendment. He didn’t conquer them in a voting booth. He didn’t conquer enemies by traditional human means. He conquered His enemies by praying for them and by shedding His blood for them. He gave His life so that we would know true love. He didn’t become sin; He BEAT sin. He beat death. He beat darkness. By not bowing to the system, He beat the system.

And on the third day, He rose. He didn’t say “Alright fools, I warned you I’d be back. You done messed up now!” He said simply, “Peace be with you.”

Peace.

This is my hope. This is my God. This is what a loving Father is like. This is what sacrifice is. This is the reason I celebrate. This is what I want for you. Jesus, Love. Salt and Light. In a church and in your heart.


I went to Roswell

…And it was everything I dreamed it would be.

I feel like Roswell is my spirit town, like I was born to live there. Like I am the town and the town is me: weird enough to deter basic folk, but just redneck enough to deter hipsters; oddly fascinating but nothing special, with a healthy dose of conspiracy theorism and distrust of the government for that extra added quirkiness.

Roswell=ALIENS, y’all.

Every now and then, Caleb and I like to punish ourselves by taking small children on road trips. We got into town around 4:30 p.m. after a relatively easy 7 hour drive through the freaking middle of BFE Nowhere. (Note: if you wanna know what a cross between Afghanistan and the surface of Mars would look like sprinkled with a few wind-blown ghost towns, hit up west Texas/eastern New Mexico.)

It was dinner time, and Caleb was hankering for some classic New Mexican food; unfortunately, Roswell had no known establishment that served such cuisine, so we settled on Pepper’s Grill and Bar for cheeseburgers and tacos. I made a poor life choice and ordered the hot green chile sauce, despite a verbal warning from our friendly waitress. I continued my downward spiral by powering through my meal with no water–I was not going to hear “I told you so” from Caleb or Mia, even though my ears were popping and my brain was melting, and my skin was cold and pale and clammy and I was discreetly wiping away buckets of sweat when no one was looking. Let the record show that I held it together (outwardly), even though hours into the dark of night I could literally feel my cast-iron stomach lining peeling clean off. I prayed for sweet mercy; I soldiered on til morning, quietly and alone, to die another day.

After a miserable night’s sleep that had everything to do with keeping an infant in a hotel room, we moseyed down to the Spring River Zoo and Park, and I took no pictures because when you’ve seen one black bear, you’ve seen em all. But it was completely free, Merrick got to feed the goats, and Arbor could run around like a maniac, so win-win all the way around.

Then we cheesy-touristed Roswell’s main drag. Everything in this s town is alien-themed.

EVERYTHING. Even the McDonald’s is shaped like a UFO.

We hit up the UFO museum (Good news: Arbor’s no longer having nightmares about Bigfoot!) and all shops selling cheap crap relating to UFOs. We bought and shared an alien cookie from a Mexican bakery, which was just about the highlight of Arbor’s year.

Then we stepped into this delightful store:

Because surely it would suit all our fossil needs plus maybe we would see Jesus carved out of a geode or something 12% as amazing. My son loves rocks and began an eight hour conversation about pyrite and cobalt with the man behind the counter.

Upon finally leaving the store, we were swept up into a major dust storm, and naturally, decided that making an additional stop at a nearby state park of questionable enjoyment potential was the preferable way to spend the rest of our afternoon.

Enter Bottomless Lakes State Park, a place that looks like a nuclear wasteland on a pretty day. On a dust storm day, it looks like the freaking Dead Marshes and I half expected Gollum to slink out from under a rock. Bottomless Lakes State Park is a wetlands area in the middle of the desert and it is where dreams go to die. It’s a cool destination straight out of an Evanescence video, specifically designed for the depressed adventurer. Upon further exploration I found it to be oddly beautiful but not so beautiful I wanted to visit it again ever. I’m picky about my bogs and cenotes.

The next day we made the short(ish) drive down to Carlsbad Caverns. I need not go into detail except to say it was incredible and awe-inspiring and my entire family went ballistic over the size of the caves and if you ever find yourself with the time to check it out, I command you to do just that. Bats. Caves. Cacti. Rocks. Best. Day. Ever.

Full disclosure: we are a family easily entertained. We are also a large family so inexpensive and educational is how we rock a Spring Break. We love hiking, too, so I was excited to figure out that we were staying close to the Guadalupe Mountains of northwest Texas. Day 3 brought us one of the most beautiful and challenging hikes we’ve ever been on as a family. Devil’s Hall trail was described in the brochures as “moderate”, and it very well may have been moderate to the average bear, but this girl had the world’s most giant three-year-old on her back plus a bag full of baby supplies and bottled waters hanging off my front side. Half of the 4+ mile trail was rock climbing and boulder hopping. I couldn’t feel my legs on the trek back to the car.

But it was so wonderful and so worth it.

…and then we went back to hotel to scarf every edible thing in sight.

The next day we went home, but not without a quick leg-stretching visit to Lubbock’s American Windmill Museum.

Done.


Not bad

I keep sitting down to write something super meaningful and deep but then Arbor interrupts asking me to play DJ to the soundtrack of her day, and I’m alright with this, especially when the playlist consists of one song and one song only: Bidi Bidi Bom Bom, by Selena, which Arbor rightfully pronounces as “Sehweenas”. Who am I to get in the way of a sweet Tejano dance-off between Kermit the Frog, a bald clothesless baby doll, and the world’s most blondest three-year-old? This is a thing that comes before mom-blogging, so, hey. Me running my mouth about coffee and diapers can wait.

So mom blogs, eh? Is it just me or are they all (mine included) starting to sound like maybe–just maybe–none of us actually like parenting? The whole “keeping the kids alive til five”, “Wine-thirty” and “you suck as a mom and that’s okay” themes are getting tired; I’m normally public enemy number one, but lately I’ve become ashamed of the days where I’ve mentally called it quits before my head even lifts from the pillow.

Hey.

Let’s do better.

Yeah sure we’re exhausted and no one is getting paid, and ain’t nobody got time for homemade baby food (seriously, STOP) when there’s butts to wipe and laundry to fold. (haha just kidding, laundry’s not getting folded.)

This is important: I’ve wasted a lot of valuable time–YEARS–wishing I were anywhere else but home taking care of children. Career Toni never took off but stay-at-home-mom Toni flew before she even realized she had those kind of wings. If I could give my young mom friends a piece of advice, it would be to EMBRACE THIS. Embrace motherhood.

This is where you are. And this is whoyou are–for life. Be proud of it! You were the one chosen to hug your kids and tell them stories. You feed them the things that make their bodies strong. You do the puzzles and braid the hair, you make the hot chocolate and you kiss the boo-boos. You make the rules and enforce them. You play the catch and read the books. You take the moody preteen out for slushies and bra-shopping, and you’re the one God designated to initiate those heart-to-hearts on the days you can sense she’s feeling down and her friends have been crappy. You make eye contact after school and listen to every word they have to tell you about their day. You push the strollers and cheer over every home run, you teach them kindness and thoughtfulness and respectfulness, and you give them love.

That’s you, Mom.

No one else.

I’m not saying we all need to don cardigans and have Pinterest-worthy snacks and crafts waiting for our children after school. We don’t have to love sleepless nights and colic. We might like to stick our head in the oven before reading “Green Eggs and Ham” with a five year old for the billionth time. And you don’t have to lose yourself–go ahead and get that bomb tattoo that has nothing to do with your childrens’ birth dates and everything to do with your love of anything steampunk.

But we can make peace with doing the things our children need us to do. We can go to bed before 9 p.m. and sleep soundly knowing that it’s ok to not be hungover when our kids are jumping on the bed before sunrise begging for scrambled eggs that they won’t even eat. We can step up our mom-game without fear of being called obnoxious or pathetic or annoying, because the people that would say that DON’T EVEN KNOW.

It’s not the cool thing to admit I don’t guzzle wine by the bottle or plan moms’ nights out 10 times a month.

But dang it, I’m a good mom. And that’s ok.


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